09/18/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:57 EDT

Rob Ford's Cancer Diagnosis: Will The Mayoral Candidates Soften Their Attacks?

The revelation that Rob Ford has a rare cancerous tumour may have effectively taken the Toronto mayor and the issue of his past personal behaviour out of the campaign, but it's unlikely to soften the attacks against Doug Ford, who is running in his brother's place.  

"It closes the file on all of the humiliating Rob Ford personal life stories," said Robin Sears, a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group and a former NDP strategist. "That’s now completely out of bounds, I would argue, because it's irrelevant and it would be seen as tasteless for a guy who’s suffering from cancer."

Ford's diagnosis raises questions as to whether each of the main remaining candidates, John Tory and Olivia Chow, will have to change their strategies or temper their campaign attacks against Doug Ford, who announced his candidacy last week.

"I think what you’re going to see is that there’s going to be less reference to Rob," said Toronto-based political strategist Marcel Wieder.

"Before what you saw was Rob and Doug, Doug and Rob, the two were interchangeable," Wieder said. "I suspect that, given what we know now today, both Tory and Chow will not reference [Rob] Ford or any of his situations and will be purely focusing on Doug."

"I don't think anybody will be criticizing Rob Ford," added Toronto city councillor John Fillion, speaking on CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon. "They'll be presenting their ideas. Doug will probably be going on the attack."

While the candidates will be sympathetic and respectful where Rob Ford and his illness are concerned, Doug Ford's decision to throw himself into the race gives the other candidates an opportunity to focus all their attacks on him without fear of reprisal for appearing to be graceless, Sears said. 

'He can be expected to be criticized'

"They don’t want to be vituperative but he has deliberately decided to put himself in the ring to defend a policy legacy and policy propositions that he and his brother represented. So he can be expected to be criticized for it because it’s a campaign," Sears said. 

"He set himself up for the attacks and he will get them, I think."

"I think if Doug is true to form, he won't give anyone any reason to be concerned that he feels hard-done by or put upon," Sears said. "He'll be as rude and explosive as always and people will say 'Hmm, that kind of invites a counter attack."'

Criticizing Doug Ford on his attendance record at city council, motions he either supported or opposed will all be fair game, Wieder said, as will talking about some of the programs and platforms he proposes. 

When Doug Ford announced his candidacy last week, Tory pulled no punches, saying he was worse than his brother.

But Tuesday night, following the news conference by Rob Ford's doctor, Tory appeared more muted when speaking to reporters, saying the campaign "isn't about a person as much as it's about an approach to leadership, about a set of policies, a set of ideas."

Asked about his apparent change in tone since last week's news conference, Tory explained that we now know more about the mayor's health and that it had been important to respond to the news of Doug Ford's candidacy.

Tory more circumspect this time

"The first [news conference], Tory was a little tin-eared, and in this one he was a little more circumspect," Wieder said.

Chow, whose husband, NDP Leader Jack Layton, died of cancer, and who has faced her own personal battle with the disease, was also asked whether Rob Ford's diagnosis made it difficult to campaign against Doug Ford.

"No, because I'm not running against the person, I'm running against the idea. I think it's important to remember it's the policies, the voting records, and all of those things combined. It's not just about the person."

However, much of the campaign has been focused on Rob Ford's past behaviour. And with the mayor's diagnosis rendering his past behaviour off-limits, the candidates have had a valuable campaign weapon taken away from them.

"Had [Doug Ford] not become a candidate, that would have been a fascinating dilemma because then it would be difficult to talk about the Ford legacy without appearing to be mean to Rob," Sears said.